BAGHDAD — A controversy is brewing over the actions of Iraqi armed forces during “anti-terrorism” operations, as senior army officers have issued clear orders to kill rather than arrest those being pursued.
There are of course opposing positions on this shift in Iraq's war against terrorism. Some view it as some form of “martial law” that violates human rights, but others think it an appropriate solution for stopping the so-called death machine of suicide bombers and criminals across the country. In Baquba on Jan. 24, Diyala police killed six men whom they claimed were suicide bombers planning to storm the local government building. After they were captured, the men were tied to street lamp poles and shot.
Gen. Abdul Amir al-Zaidi was the first Iraqi officer to issue orders to kill wanted men instead of arresting them and transferring them to stand trial. Zaidi is chief of the army's Tigris operations, whose activities cover areas north of Baghdad. On Dec. 30, 2013, he proclaimed, “I will kill any terrorist. I will not deliver him to justice. I will show him no mercy.” This outlook worries a number of Iraqi observers.
Kazem al-Mikdadi, an academic researcher at the University of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor, “The decision to kill those wanted instead of arresting them is not politically legitimate according to the constitution. … Naturally, in countries that respect human rights, a wanted person must be arrested, interrogated and handed over for justice, even if he ends up being executed. … What’s important is that it happens according to the law. … The politicians didn’t denounce the decision of the military generals. … It seems that the law of the jungle prevails.”
Bushra al-Obeidi, a member of the Commission on Human Rights in Iraq, shared views similar to Mikdadi's. She related to Al-Monitor, “Holding criminals accountable is the duty of the judiciary alone. The [armed] forces should hand over any captured criminal or terrorist to the judicial authorities so that they are held accountable in accordance with Iraqi law.”
Mikdadi pointed to another danger that this type of security operation might produce. He noted, “A big benefit of arresting terrorists are the interrogations and obtaining information that would enable the intelligence services to form a clear picture about the armed groups, how they move and how they form their cells.”
He added, “The Iraqis have been subjected to fierce attack by terrorists. There have been hundreds of thousands of victims as a result of the ongoing violence. So [Iraqis] might approve of the decision by the military officers to kill rather than arrest criminals, because it heals deep wounds. … But that decision and the [popular] response to it has emotional motives. The security establishment must recognize the security damage that is being done. [The security establishment] must abide by the law and benefit from the information that could be gleaned from each detainee.”
Mikdadi concluded, “We will lose a treasure trove of information if they are not interrogated, not to mention that this behavior [of killing detainees] may result in mistakes [where] someone who has nothing to do with terrorism is arrested.”
Regardless, the decision to kill wanted persons is supported by a large number of Iraqis. Many have expressed approval of the killing of alleged terrorists who stormed a prison in Tawbaji, central Baghdad, on Jan. 19. That same day, a military source told Al-Monitor that the security services had arrested the men who had escaped and executed them on the spot. Photographs were posted on Facebook showing the escapees under detention by an Iraqi military unit and after they had been killed.
Al-Monitor spoke with a few Baghdad residents to get their opinions. Some rationalized their support for the decision because, as one person contended, “arresting wanted persons may allow them to escape from prison, as happened before.” Others expressed doubts and apprehension about the application of the approach, revealing “sectarian fears that this method may be exploited to stir up strife between [societal] components.”